Thousands of National Security Letters are sent annually, don’t need a judge’s signoff, and it’s illegal to tell anyone you got one. What do they demand? Web browsing history, the IP addresses of everyone corresponded with, all online purchases, and more.
Ars Technica’s David Kravets reports that the details of the secret letters have emerged thanks to court moves from an ISP reluctant to secretly surveil its users for the FBI.
“The FBI has interpreted its NSL authority to encompass the websites we read, the Web searches we conduct, the people we contact, and the places we go. This kind of data reveals the most intimate details of our lives, including our political activities, religious affiliations, private relationships, and even our private thoughts and beliefs,” said Nicholas Merrill, who was president of Calyx Internet Access in New York when he received the NSL targeting one of his customers in 2004.
The FBI subsequently dropped demands for the information on one of Merrill’s customers, but he fought the gag order in what turned out to be an 11-year legal odyssey just to expose what the FBI was seeking. He declined to reveal the FBI’s target.